Duane Udstuen's Grantwriting Tips

Duane Udstuen is an experienced grant evaluator having served on a number of grant review panels. In the two videos below he shares an evaluator’s perspective on how to write a grant to increase the likelihood of receiving funding.

Foundation Grants

Five Tips for Foundation Grant Writing:

  • Have a clear idea and an outline of a proposal before searching for funding. Be specific.
  • Find out exactly how much the project will cost before you search for funding.
  • Know who will benefit ­ special needs, ethnicity, geographic area, etc.
  • Apply to more than one foundation.
  • Focus on client (student or teacher) benefits, not benefits for your organization.

Over half of Minnesota¹s foundations use a common grant proposal template, consisting of:

  1. Letter of inquiry – general overview – 1 page
    Who we are;
    Geographic location;
    What the Requested Amount of the Grant is;
    What the money is for;
    Who would benefit.
  2. Body of grant proposal – usually 5 pages maximum
    Background of organization;
    Objectives of grant proposal;
    Timeline for proposal.


For foundation funding, there is a lag between when the grant proposal is due and when the money is awarded – maybe as much as 6-8 months. Early planning is essential.

Corporations have a quick turn-around time. They do not have boards and deadlines as formal as those at the foundations.

Tips for each phase of the grant writing process

  • Abstract
  • Problem Statement
  • Introduction
  • Literature Review
  • Objectives
  • Procedures
  • Evaluation
  • Budget
  • Grant Disapproval
  • Grant Writing Definitions
  1. Brief summary, highlighting the features of the proposal (usual maximum of 300 words).
  2. Includes the identification of the applicant and a phrase or two about the applicant’s credibility.
  3. Should be brief, clear, and interesting.
  4. Includes major objectives and an overview of the proposed strategy for achieving the objectives.
  5. Paraphrase the objectives and procedures.
  6. Use the key terms used in the body for reader awareness.
  7. Should include references to the cost, to reflect cost effectiveness.
  8. Serves several purposes:
    Usually read first;
    Provides a perspective on the study;
    Used as a reference for discussion purposes.
  9. Appears first, but is always written last, after the proposal has been completely developed.
  1. Documents the significance of the problem(s) with data.
  2. Do not editorialize. State facts. Too often proposals are submitted on an emotional or political basis rather than on rational terms.
  3. The problem identified must be solvable and create a need for some type of planned action.
  4. Does the problem statement convince the reviewers of the importance of the proposal?
  5. The problem statement determines the major focus of the importance of the proposed project and stresses why this particular program should be undertaken.
  6. The problem statement establishes the theme for the proposal; it must show a clarity of purpose.
  7. The problem statement must provide the proper entrée to the other subsections of the proposal.
  1. Introduce your institution, with reference to its basic characteristics, legal status, physical, geographic and demographic settings.
  2. Always assume the review team is not familiar with your institution. Offer statements and/or endorsements to support your credibility.
  3. Identify the key features of your organization.
  4. Restate your institution’s strengths to the proposed problem.
  5. Provide continuity between the institutional goals and the achievement of the proposed program.
  6. Develop an apparent relationship between the organization’s purpose and the problem identified.
  7. The identification of the problem should evolve from the statement of your organization’s purpose.


  1. Summarize the pertinent research and include relevant current references.
  2. Cite sources of special importance related to the problem statement.
  3. Indicate how the proposed study will extend the body of knowledge and/or provide for alternatives.
  4. Point out what will be different and/or distinctive about the proposed program.
  5. Include review of the current literature in both content and method.
  1. Objectives should be stated with action-oriented verbs such as: demonstrate, test, develop.
  2. In writing objectives, maximize concreteness, clarity and precision. Do not be ambiguous.
  3. Objectives are considered precise outcomes that must be measured in some manner to determine actual accomplishments.
  4. The objectives are the basis for determining the procedural aspects of the program, and, therefore, must be carefully planned.
  5. The most frequent error made in writing objectives is to make them vague.
  6. Objectives must be briefly and succinctly stated—a sentence or two at most.
  7. The quality of the written objectives will determine the effectiveness of the evaluation design.
  8. Objectives must be easily found, not embedded in the narrative of the proposal.
  9. Prioritized objectives indicate good planning and reasoning by the principal investigator.
  10. List major objectives followed by a series of sub-objectives to identify aspects of the program plan precisely.

NOTE:  In developing program objectives, it is helpful to list as many aims, goals, and objectives as occur to the proposal writer without attempting initially to refine them. From your initial list, you can begin to form your objectives into concrete, measurable statements.

  1. Describe the plan of action.
  2. Introductory paragraph to the procedures section should provide a complete indication of your program objectives.
  3. Describe the activities and/or processes for carrying out your program objectives and the reasons for selecting this particular approach.
  4. Present a reasonable scope of activities that can be accomplished within the time frame allotted for the program and within the resources of the applicant.
  5. Describe the staff expertise to provide greater assurance of achievement.
  6. Usually, the Procedures Section is the most carefully read section of the whole proposal.
  7. Develop a sequential procedure required for program implementation.
  8. Sequencing your procedures provides structure for monitoring and evaluating the effectiveness of each objective.
  9. Program procedures must be in terms of their application to the objectives.

NOTE:  The procedures section answers the questions of who, what, how, and where.

  1. A sound evaluation design will measure the extent to which your program was effective in achieving its objectives.
  2. Evaluation design must be carefully aligned with the program objectives and should do the following:
    cover products and process,
    define evaluation criteria,
    describe data gathering methods,
    describe the process of data analysis.
  3. The following questions need to be included in designing the evaluation system:
    Did the program accomplish its objectives?
    Did the program operate as it was designed to operate?
    What variables need to be considered in monitoring the program structure?
  4. An evaluation plan should identify who will be performing the evaluation and their expertise in the area to be evaluated.
  5. Evaluation design must provide for a continuous monitoring system.
  6. An appropriate analysis and reporting system must be incorporated in the evaluation design.

NOTE: Evaluation is any systematic process that is designed to reduce uncertainty about the effectiveness of a particular program component. Evaluation should also include considerations of various alternatives for continuing, expanding, or terminating the program.

  1. The budget must reflect the resources that will be required to achieve the program objectives.
  2. A program should not be designed to fit a budget.  Rather, the budget should be designed to fit the program.
    The budget is developed after all of the other sections of the proposal are developed.
  3. Key elements of a program budget need to be justified and briefly described, with the following components included:
    Salary rate structures must be detailed.
    Fringe benefits for each category must be identified.
    Travel details should be commensurate with the applicant’s policies.
    Unusual requests need to be detailed and justified, equipment items detailed by model references.
    All supplies and services should be itemized.
  4. Indirect costs in concurrence with the policies of the applicant and the sponsoring agency.
  5. The budget is an operational statement of the project in monetary terms.


  • Lack of new or original ideas
  • Diffuse, superficial or unfocused program
  • Lack of knowledge of published relevant work
  • Lack of experience in the essential methodologies
  • Uncertainty concerning future directions or possibilities
  • Questionable reasoning in experimental approach
  • Absence of an acceptable scientific rationale
  • Unrealistically large amount of work
  • Lack of an effective evaluation scheme
  • Lack of sufficient experimental design
  • Uncritical approach

General Purpose Grant: A grant made to further the general purpose or work of an organization, rather than a specific purpose or project. (See also Operating Support Grant.)

In-Kind Contributions: Contributions of equipment, supplies, or other property as distinguished from monetary grants. Some companies may also donate space or staff time as an in-kind contribution. With government grants, they will often ask for a minimum specified amount of in-kind contributions.

Independent Foundation: A grantmaking organization usually classified by the IRS as a private foundation.  Independent foundations may also be known as family foundations, general purpose foundations, or private non-operating foundations.

Matching Grant: A grant that is made to match funds provided by another donor. It may also be called a Challenge Grant.

Operating Support Grant: A grant to cover the regular personnel, administrative, and other expenses of an existing program or project.

Private Foundation: A nongovernmental, nonprofit organization with funds (usually from a single source, such as an individual, family or corporation) and program managed by its own trustees or directors that was established to maintain or aid social, educational, religious or other charitable activities serving the common welfare, primarily through the making of grants.

Proposal: A written application, often with supporting documents, submitted to a foundation or corporate giving program in requesting a grant. Preferred procedures and formats vary.

Query Letter: A brief letter outlining an organization’s activities and its request for funding sent to a foundation or corporation to determine whether it would be appropriate to submit a full grant proposal. Many grantmakers prefer to be contacted in this way before receiving a full proposal.

RFP: Request for Proposal. When the government issues a new contract or grant program, it sends out RFP’s to agencies that might be qualified to participate. The RFP lists project specifications and application procedures. Foundations occasionally use RFP’s in specific fields, but most prefer to consider proposals that are initiated by applicants.

Seed Money: Grants to start, establish, or initiate new projects or organizations; may cover salaries and other operating expenses of a new project. Also called “start-up funds”.

Special Purpose Foundation: A private foundation that focuses its grantmaking activities in one or a few special areas of interest. For example, a foundation may award grants only in the area of cancer research or child development.